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Halt put on PR applications in Cook Islands

Posted On: Friday, 25 August 2017

RAROTONGA, 25 AUGUST 2017 (COOK ISLANDS NEWS) --- All applications for permanent residency (PR) in Cook Islands are being returned to applicants. The Immigration division says no more will be processed until the criteria foreigners must meet to live here permanently is finalised. All deposits made with the applications by PR hopefuls are also being returned. Just eight people were awarded PR status earlier this year. All of these were awarded permanent residency in 2013, but were unable to attend the certificate ceremony. Prime minister and Immigration minister Henry Puna has been wanting finalisation of PR criteria for several years, but little progress seems to have been made towards achieving it.

The most recent development involves returning all applications and contracting a local consultant to work on finalising the requirements applicants must fulfil before being considered for permanent residency. Principal Immigration Officer Kairangi Samuela did not identify the consultant. At the beginning of the year she said immigration regulations which included the PR criteria would be completed by April. However, four months later, the freeze on awarding full residential status to any foreigners continues, as do assurances that something is being done to update immigration regulations.

In 2015, Puna said no new PRs would be granted until Immigration had finalised its policy, which was to include the eligibility criteria. For a number of years there has been talk of including the Aronga Mana (traditional leaders) in formulating the criteria. An immigration review panel headed by the late Te Tika Mataiapo Dorice Reid also had a go at revising policy and coming up with criteria that the Aronga Mana wanted adopted. This included all would-be PRs being able to understand and speak basic Cook Islands Maori. In 2015 Samuela said the PM was keen to have the Aronga Mana review applications and give their opinions on those who were applying, “as a matter of policy rather than on a discretionary basis”.

She said Puna had agreed the Aronga Mana should be included as the applicants lived in their villages and knew them better. They were also more aware of their contributions to the community. Samuela now says the consultant’s work will involve discussions with the Aronga Mana. At present PR applicants must include supporting letters from two locally-based referees. Samuela says the idea is for this requirement to include the Aronga Mana being involved. It’s understood the consultant will come up with a plan for Immigration as to how this would work. The Aronga Mana have long wanted a role in helping decide which applicants get the privilege of being able to live here permanently.

Koutu Nui president Terei Mataiapo Paul Allsworth said their own traditional body wants clear guidelines and criteria on the process of approving future PRs. He says this should include an agreed limit on the number of PRs the country can have at any one time. The limit of 500 PRs was lifted to 650 under the previous government. Samuela says the consultant will examine the permanent residency process and hold more consultations with the Aronga Mana, Koutu Nui and the House of Ariki on behalf of Immigration. The consultant will also look at the PR criteria the prime minister wants expanded. Samuela says there have been suggestions the criteria could include the training and promotion of Cook Islanders within foreign-owned businesses, amongst others.

“There has also been a suggestion that the applicant at least know basic Cook Islands Maori. There needs to be a balancing out of what is realistic and can be provided as evidence in the application form.” Samuela did not respond to a request to clarify what “basic Maori” applicants would need to learn. Permanent residents enjoy the same privileges as indigenous Cook Islanders except land ownership. ....PACNEWS

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